Jun 9, 2021
As part of a new program series, Member Moments, artist Lezley Saar will be in conversation with Stephanie Sparling Williams, Associate Curator at Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Saar and Williams will discuss I dream the body... (2017) and Therese Raquin (2011), both recent additions to the Studio Museum's permanent collection, and the artist’s influences and practice.
Member Moments is a digital program series designed specifically for Studio Museum Members. Presented live on Zoom, Member Moments focuses on the Museum’s art and community of artists and offers Members an intimate space for direct engagement with staff from the Studio Museum’s Curatorial Department, as well as other curators, thought-leaders, and cultural luminaries from around the country.
Lezley Saar is an African American artist whose artwork is responsive to race, gender, female identity, colorism and her ancestral history. Her works are primarily created with mixed media with an emphasis on acrylic painting done on fabric and presented in various formats ranging from fitted inserts over wood panels in found frames to large banner paintings hung on curtain rods.
Through her artistic practice Lezley explores western and non-western concepts of beauty, femininist psychology and spirituality. Her earliest works were done on constructed altered books and draw on her experience working for Ishmael Reed and the exposure to the Bay Area literary scene. As her practiced evolved in the 1990s, she began employing found objects and collaged photographs with oil and acrylic paint on fabric as commentary on themes of hybridity, acceptance and belonging. Many works are narratives based on African American and European literature and historical figures.
Saar's work is both inspired by and a reaction to growing up in a family of artists having been raised by her mother, Betye Saar and working alongside her sister, Alison Saar which she credits as her inspiration and interest in feminism, African American history and bi-racial identity. Many works conjure elements of magical realism and more recently she has created bodies of work with subjects named rather than titled with each portrait having a short description of the unique abilities to perform mystical powers.
Saar has exhibited widely in the U.S. and internationally. Her work is included in museum collections such as the Studio Museum in Harlem; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; California African American Museum; Crocker Art Museum; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College; Smith College Museum of Art; The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City; Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Eugene; Museum of Art and History, Lancaster, CA and Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the recipient of the California State Senate Contemporary Art Collection award (2000), the J. Paul Getty Mid-Career Grant (1996), and the Seagram’s Gin Perspective in African American Art Fellowship (1995). Saar is represented by Walter Maciel Gallery in Los Angeles and resides in Redondo Beach, CA.
Stephanie Sparling Williams is a Black feminist theorist and an Associate Curator at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Her scholarly work is invested in American art and material culture, specifically art made by African Americans and artists of color. Other research interests include critical race and gender theory; histories of exclusion and strategies of address within art institutions; feminist, phenomenological, and intersectional approaches to art-historical research and writing; and contemporary art that engages the American past. Her book Speaking Out of Turn: Lorraine O'Grady and the Art of Language is out this summer from UC Press and is currently available for pre-order online. Speaking Out of Turn is the first monograph dedicated to the forty-year oeuvre of feminist conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady. Examining O’Grady’s use of language, both written and spoken, Sparling Williams charts the artist’s strategic use of direct address—the dialectic posture her art takes in relationship to its viewers—to trouble the field of vision and claim a voice in the late 1970s to 1990s, when her voice was seen as “out of turn” in the art world. Speaking Out of Turn situates O’Grady’s significant contributions within the history of American conceptualism and performance art, while also attending to the work's heightened visibility in the contemporary moment, revealing both the marginalization of O’Grady in the past and an urgent need to revisit her art in the present.